While the Argus Sports Editors typically limit the subjects of our commentary to that which explicitly applies to Wesleyan athletics, Ray Rice’s recent suspension must be discussed, and must be discussed in relation to the Wesleyan student body and athletic programs.
For those of you fortunate enough to avoid the National Football League (NFL), we’ll briefly explain the situation. Last February, a video surfaced on TMZ of former Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice dragging his unconscious then-fiancée Janay Palmer out of a hotel elevator. He was charged with aggravated assault, but this charge was ultimately dropped after Rice agreed to undergo counseling. At a joint press conference, Rice and Palmer, now married, announced that they were jointly responsible for the incident. The NFL then suspended Rice for two games, which, accounting for a two-game loss, left his baseline salary for the season at around $3.5 million. The Ravens tweeted on their official team account: “Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role she played the night of the incident.”
Two months later (last weekend), TMZ leaked another video, this time from inside that elevator. The video depicts Palmer pushing her husband and Rice responding with a right hook that knocked Palmer unconscious. Palmer hit her head on a railing in the elevator before landing on the ground. Three days later, Rice was released by the Ravens and suspended indefinitely by the NFL.
The situation is clear-cut: Ray Rice should never play another professional football game in his life. His crime represents something that has become an unacceptably common occurrence in the most popular sport in America. This should have been clear from the first video: what else could have happened inside the elevator when you see a man dragging his bleeding, unconscious fiancée out of it? The two-game suspension wasn’t anything close to long enough, and it should not have taken the horrific video surfacing for people to realize that he should be banned from the league.
To say that the NFL has a long history of grossly mishandling disciplinary sanctions would be letting League Commissioner Roger Goodell & Co. off easy. In between Super Bowl appearances in 2008 and 2011, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was at the center of two sexual assault controversies. He went unpunished by the league for the first, and served a shortened four-game suspension in 2011 for the second. Former all-Pro Linebacker Shawne Merriman was suspended for four games after testing positive for anabolic steroids in 2006. But after being arrested for battery and false imprisonment of his then-girlfriend eight weeks before the start of the 2009 season, he went on to play 14 games for the San Diego Chargers. To make that clear: his suspension for taking drugs was twice as long as his suspension for beating his girlfriend and holding her captive in his house.
This summer, after he was accused of beating and threatening to kill his girlfriend, Panthers linebacker Greg Hardy played week one as if nothing had happened. It was only after the ensuing media firestorm and fall-out from the Ray Rice case that his coach Ron Rivera made the decision to deactivate him for week two; Hardy remains on the Panthers’ payroll. The NFL, which promotes and profits from the exhibition of violence, is riddled with cases such as these.
These incidents almost always make national headlines and are perennially talking point fodder for sports-programming shows. Still, the only time the NFL cares to take substantial action to punish one of their players and set an example for the rest of the league is when the gruesome proof of attack is made public online.
As evidenced by the ongoing Ray Rice case and so many others, the NFL feels no qualms allowing perpetrators of violence to play on Sundays as long as it doesn’t interfere with its brand. But as ESPN anchor Hannah Storm said in her sign-off on Sunday morning’s edition of SportsCenter, “Are we supposed to simply separate a violent game on the field from violent acts off the field?”
Though it’s easy to say that one should just stop supporting the NFL, it’s difficult for those fans that are emotionally invested in their team to just stop watching. Behavior change can be hard, especially when, every autumn, Sunday turns from your least favorite to your favorite day because you get to watch your favorite team.
The NFL is the most profitable sports league in the world, but there are ways to make an impact. First and foremost, find new, “creative” ways to watch the games. I understand that it can be hard not to watch, but if one watches on an internet stream (vipbox.tv, for one, is a reliable site for all football games, but watch out for popups,) it doesn’t count for the NFL ratings and that could affect commercial spots. The league does sell localized commercial spots in specific markets, so a big enough decline in a specific market could cause local sponsors to pull out.
More easily, and more importantly, either engaging with the NFL or its sponsors on social media, or refusing to consume products from companies that support the NFL or Ray Rice could make a noticeable impact on the league. PepsiCo and Anheuser-Busch are both very active NFL sponsors, and have publicly announced that they will take a “wait and see” approach before they decide whether to continue funding. A hint, though: funding will never get pulled. More people watch NFL games than any other event on television; the stain of domestic violence isn’t going to be enough to deter advertising. Don’t be afraid to tweet at or Direct Message any of these companies, or the NFL, telling them that you’re switching to Coke or Pabst Blue Ribbon (which you should do anyway, but that’s an issue for another article).
Actively engaging with organizations that help prevent domestic violence, specifically in the NFL, is one great way to help combat the issue. Coaching Boys Into Men is one program that funds classes for high school athletic coaches learn how to talk to their athletes about how to respect people beyond the archaic, misguided, and misogynistic notion that men are women’s protectors and shouldn’t hurt them. If you have any influence at your high school or middle school, fight for funds to be directed towards programs like this.
We also publicly and vehemently propose that all coaches at Wesleyan should take a course like this, and learn how to prevent implicitly violent speech among their male athletes.
This is an ongoing issue, and it might seem that there are no large-scale ways to make an impact. But actively finding ways to consume the NFL without adding to its bankroll is not as hard as it might seem.